-report by Deepti Dubey
The Supreme Court, pronouncing the judgement in Rajasthan State Road Transport Corporation V. Bharat Singh Jhala (Dead) Son of Shri Nathu Singh, through Legal Heirs & Anr expressed that the labour court cannot take a view contrary to the Industrial Tribunal. A Bench of Justice MR Shah and Krishna Murari was considering an appeal plea by the Rajasthan State Road Transport Corporation.
Mr. Bharat Singh Jhala was working as a conductor. A departmental inquiry was initiated against him for not issuing tickets to 10 passengers even though he collected the amount for the same. Thereafter, his services were terminated by the Rajasthan State Road Transport Corporation in 2007. The termination was the subject matter of the approval application before the Industrial Tribunal in an application under Section 33(2)(b) of the Industrial Act. The tribunal approved of the same after examining the evidence from both parties.
After a period of 19 years, the dispute was raised in a labour court by the workmen. The Labour Court passed an order awarding 50% back wages from the date of termination till his death in 2018. This order was challenged before a Single Judge in the High Court who dismissed this writ petition and upheld the award of back wages from the Labour Court, which gave rise to the present appeal.
The appellant i.e. the Rajasthan State Road Transport Corporation submitted that under the proceedings before the Industrial tribunal, the appellant had been permitted to lead evidence and prove the charge against the conductor. This was later approved by the Industrial Tribunal, which cannot be challenged after 19 years and quashed by the Labour Court. Therefore, they prayed to approve the present appeal.
The respondents relied upon the judgement of John D’Souza vs. Karnataka State Road Transport Corporation, (2019). They stated that: the proceedings under Section 33(2)(b) of the I.D. Act is summary in nature and findings recorded while deciding the application under Section 33(2)(b) of the Act shall not affect the substantive right in a reference under Section 10 of the I.D. Act.
They attempted to discredit the proceedings of the Industrial tribunal by regarding it as speedy without due formalities. At the same time, more importance was given to the substantive right of a workman to raise an individual industrial dispute. It was insisted that the Supreme Court in the present case must not interfere with the judgement of the lower court.
The Supreme Court noted that the Industrial Tribunal is a higher forum than the Labour Court and the order passed by them in 2015 had attained finality. The Bench also noted that evidence on record, both oral and documentary were considered before approval of the termination order by the Industrial tribunal. Thus, fresh reference under Section 10 of the I.D. Act challenging the order of termination was not permissible. It concluded that the High Court, in the present case had failed to consider these factors and committed a serious error in dismissing the writ petition. Thereafter, the order passed by the High Court confirming the judgment and award passed by the Labour Court was set aside the order of termination and the judgment and award passed by the labour Court setting aside the order of termination were quashed and set aside.
The supreme court expressed its discontentment with the High Court’s lack of precision in analysing the facts and circumstances of the present case. The Industrial Disputes Act, of 1947 is focused on the mechanism and procedure for the investigation and settlement of industrial disputes. Whilst taking into consideration the welfare of the workmen, due regard also has to be given to the procedure for investigation under the act. Once the dispute has been settled after a thorough examination of evidence, as in the present case, raising the same dispute after 19 years is redundant. In law, the principle applied for the same is res judicata, which means, a matter which has been adjudicated upon once cannot be pursued further by the same parties.